Through my NYU and USC alumni networks, I’ve been getting asked a lot for advice on writing professionally. It happened so often during the summer that I thought I’d post it here; maybe other students can benefit from it, too.
First things first: This is not to say my career has been perfect; it’s been far from it. In the past 15 years of working in media (newspapers, digital, and podcasting), I’ve had setbacks, made mistakes, had terrible mentors/bosses, and taken jobs I’ve regretted. But I’ve also made sure to learn from those experiences and worked some great jobs with wonderful people, lovely mentors, and have gotten lucky many, many times. It balances out.
Being able to write professionally is tough, but it’s worth it. It’s very hard to get writing jobs, let alone the right writing job. And for that reason, I always try to not take any writing or journalism job I have for granted—something I definitely advise. Appreciate the good opportunities that come your way that have great people and work that you love.
But before you worry about snagging a job, practice writing and hone your voice. Write as much as possible! Write on your own, for the student newspaper, for your own blog, for Medium, or for internships. What they say is true — the more you do it, the better you get at it.
When you write professionally, you can’t use writer’s block as an excuse when you’re on deadline for work; you’ll have 500 other things on your to-do list. Ironically, when writing is your job, it’s not your only job; it’ll likely be one of many things you’re responsible for. But writing is a muscle and you’d be surprised at how your capacity to write will expand over time.
One of the best things I did during my undergrad years was write all the time, so when I graduated and worked for newspapers, I was ready to tackle my own beat and juggle lots of articles. Later on, as a freelancer, I juggled not only multiple articles, but working for many clients.
That being said, realize your writing will evolve over time, too. Your voice and style will change. Gigs and outlets will require different things from you. You’ll use and get used to a lot of different CMSes. You’ll start to realize what kinds of writing you’re good at and what types you’d like to avoid. It’s a journey.
Keep writing and keep going.